(Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Space Battles, Demogorgons, AI: Sci-Fi Lives Long and Prosper in 2016


DECEMBER 27, 2016

Jakarta. Not a year goes by without a science-fiction work on the big or small screen, be it another installment of the Marvel or DC Extended Universe, an Oscar-worthy journey into space or another young adult dystopia.

This year, the buzzword for sci-fi creators seems to be nostalgia. Big-name directors and writers are reviving the genre by mining audience's yearning for nostalgia, adopting references from popular eras and recycling old themes.

1. "Stranger Things"

Nostalgia is the main theme for Netflix's original "Stranger Things," which became a runaway hit for the subscription service in the second half of the year. The eight-episode series was crammed with TV and movie tropes from the 80s and 90s, such as a group of kids playing Dungeons and Dragons board game, a grotesque Demogorgon monster taken straight out of a John Carpenter flick, Eleven's psychic powers and nosebleeds and the casting of America's ultimate 90s sweetheart — Winona Ryder.

Writers and directors the Duffer brothers took their inspiration from cinematic and literary masterpieces by John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, John Hughes, Stephen King and J. R. R. Tolkien, among many. The series became an instant obsession for older audience who grew up in the 80s and 90s as well as young fans getting hooked on the suspenseful storyline.

Stranger Things' hype extended to the Golden Globe, earning nominations for Best Television Series-Drama and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series-Drama for Winona Ryder.

2. "Star Trek Beyond"

(Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Everybody's favorite childhood franchise has lived long and prospered, celebrating its 50th anniversary and the release of "Star Trek Beyond" this year. Trekkies were deeply saddened the passing of Leonard "Spock" Nimoy and Anton "Chekov" Yelchin in 2016, but they welcomed a journey into the familiar future as another reboot left the USS Enterprise crew stranded where no man had gone before.

Gene Roddenberry's iconic franchise maintains its relevance by promoting diversity and inclusiveness, featuring a gay main character and sprouting anti-prejudice messages. The franchise is also set for a new TV season, "Star Trek: Discovery," to premiere in May 2017.

3. "Ghostbusters"

(Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

The new "Ghosbusters" also paid homage to the 80s with a gender-bending version of the legendary sci-fi comedy Ghostbusters featuring an all-female ghostbusting troupe, including a lesbian.

Bridesmaids director Paul Feig took a big leap changing the gender of the quartet, and earned mixed reactions from viewers even before the film premiered.

But critics praised the film for reviving the cult classic even as it continued to suffer at the box office, earning a mere $229 million having cost $144 million to make.

4. "Westworld"

Who says robots-versus-humans is a thing of the past? HBO's star-studded "Westworld," based on a 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton, showed how the old theme (Frankenstein, anyone?) can be updated with a futuristic look and still ask all the relevant questions.

Narrating the story of a theme park set in the Old West occupied by "hosts" or artificially intelligent beings, Westworld asks a question especially pertinent today: how far would humans go to play god, brutalizing their creations just for entertainment?

Director and writer Jonathan Nolan ("Person of Interest"), brother of Christopher Nolan ("Interstellar," "Inception," "The Dark Knight") quickly became a darling of both critics and fans, earning the series Golden Globe nominations and the chance to upend rival Stranger Things in the upcoming ceremony.

5. "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

(Photo courtesy of Walt Disney)

Another episode in the Empire-versus-Rebel Alliance saga ended the year with a darker, more violent take on the legendary franchise.

Just like Ghostbusters, Rogue One had garnered mixed reviews even before it premiered. This "Episode 3.5" might have been set in a galaxy far far away, but many interpret it as a thinly veiled criticism of US President-elect Donald Trump, leading to a boycott campaign hashtagged #DumpStarWars.

Though its commercial success still lags behind "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", Rogue One is dominating the holiday box office and is projected to be one of 2016's highest grossers.

The resurgence of nostalgia-themed sci-fi works sees no signs of abating either, with some of the above-mentioned titles already have sequels and new seasons in the works.